NASA officials say a large piece of material found in Calaveras County Feb. 5 is not shuttle debris, but just what it is and where it came from remain a mystery.
A field team from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration was sum-moned to the county by the Sheriff’s Department when the chunk of unknown material was discovered just four days after the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated in the upper atmosphere, scattering debris over Texas and Louisiana.
Since then, investigators have expanded the search for possible debris farther west.
Discovered by a local rancher, the material was found on Hunt Road, approximately 10 miles northwest of Highway 4, sheriff’s Capt. Mike Walker said.
The bulk of it measured about 4 by 4 feet and weighed between 45 and 50 pounds, he said.
Most of it was found on the other side of a fence, although some had fallen on the road.
While the material did not leave any type of crater or divot, Sheriff Dennis Downum said it was apparently hot at one point because it partially charred the fence.
A county work crew had just been down Hunt Road the previous Friday, Downum said, and did not spot anything suspicious then.
Walker described the item as a fabric material covered with a white gel-plastic coating.
Downum said it also had a couple of metal items attached to it, one of which looked like some type of hinge.
When one of the NASA team members looked at it, he said it appeared of foreign origin, possibly Russian, Downum said.
What does NASA say about the incident? Not a whole lot.
“We don’t know what it is,” said Andreas Dibbern, an engineering manager with NASA working out of a Federal Emergency Management Agency office in Oakland. “We’re still looking into it, but it’s definitely not shuttle.”
Dibbern said this particular “shuttle-sighting” incident is closed, and referred all other inquiries to NASA’s press office.
When asked if the unidentified material could have come from the upper atmosphere, Dibbern said they can’t determine that at this time, and reiterated it was not shuttle material.
“That’s about all I can say,” he added.
Other NASA representatives contacted Friday echoed Dibbern’s statement that the material was not from the shuttle, and that no material from Columbia has been discovered west of Fort Worth, Texas.
Amateur astronomers in California said they saw what appeared to be something streaming from Columbia as it passed over the state.
Shortly after Columbia’s destruction, NASA officials said space debris does strike the shuttle from time to time.
Last week, NASA even issued an advisement to rangers with the U.S. Forest Service in Calaveras and surrounding counties to be on the lookout for any suspicious material, Walker said.
NASA was contacted again Monday to see if this particular incident could be tracked down.
Spokesman Alan Bius said there was still no word on what it was, and emphasized again that no confirmed shuttle debris has been found in California.
Contact Craig Koscho at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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